Comparing Postgres Backup File Formats: Which is Best for Your Database?

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Comparing Postgres Backup File Formats: Finding the Ideal Solution for Your Database

PostgreSQL is a reliable and efficient open-source relational database system that organizations of various sizes rely on for their data storage and retrieval needs. As your data is inherently sensitive and vital to your organization's continued success, it is crucial to implement a robust and reliable backup strategy.

Different PostgreSQL backup file formats come with their own unique set of features that cater to specific database needs. This article aims to provide a comprehensive comparison of the SQL, custom, and directory formats while shedding light on the key performance, convenience, and security aspects.

Furthermore, we will also introduce you to Slik Protect, a simple-to-use solution that automates PostgreSQL backups and restoration at regular intervals, providing a dependable data backup strategy to your organization.

Backup File Formats in PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL supports three primary backup file formats:

  1. SQL dump (--format=plain)
  2. Custom format (--format=custom)
  3. Directory format (--format=directory)

SQL Dump (Plain Format)

SQL dump is the simplest backup format that creates a plain-text file consisting of SQL commands required for creating an exact copy of your database.


  • Human-readable
  • Can be edited using a text editor
  • Backup and restore operations are relatively simple
  • Portable across different PostgreSQL versions


  • Larger backup file sizes
  • Slower backup and restore process compared to other formats, especially for large databases
  • No compression by default (can use gzip commands for compression)

Use Cases

  • Backing up small databases or individual tables for easy inspection and editing
  • Migrating data to different PostgreSQL versions

Custom Format

Custom backup format is a binary file format, offering advanced features and better flexibility as compared to the plain SQL format.


  • Smaller file sizes due to built-in compression
  • Faster backup and restore operations than the plain SQL format
  • Allows selective data restoration
  • Offers encryption possibilities


  • Non-human-readable format
  • Not directly editable
  • Potential compatibility issues across PostgreSQL versions

Use Cases

  • Ideal for comprehensive backup strategies due to the format's flexibility and advanced features
  • Suitable for large databases that require selective backup and restoration

Directory Format

Like the custom format, directory format is also a binary format. However, it creates a backup in a directory structure consisting of multiple files.


  • Enables parallel processing (both for backup and restore operations) for increased performance
  • Smaller file sizes due to built-in compression
  • Can be split across multiple directories (helpful for large database backups)


  • Non-human-readable format
  • Not directly editable
  • Requires an entire directory for backup storage

Use Cases

  • Suitable for large databases, especially when parallelism is needed for improved performance
  • Ideal for organizations with complex backup setups, where multiple directories are used for storing data
  • Works best with storage solutions that support directory structures

Slik Protect: A Simple Solution for PostgreSQL Backups

In addition to considering the type of backup format best suited for your organization, it is crucial to have a reliable backup and restoration solution in place. Slik Protect provides an automated, time-efficient, and reliable option for PostgreSQL backups and restoration.


  • Set it up in less than 2 minutes
  • Automates backups at regular intervals, ensuring your data is always protected
  • Highly secure, ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of your data
  • No compromise on business continuity

Use Cases

  • Any organization or individual using PostgreSQL for their database infrastructure, regardless of size or complexity
  • Users who desire a seamless, automated and reliable backup strategy


Before deciding on the backup file format to use for your PostgreSQL backup strategy, consider the file format's advantages, drawbacks, and whether it suits your database's size and requirements. SQL dumps offer simplicity and readability for smaller databases; custom format provides more advanced features and flexibility, while the directory format is suited for large databases requiring parallel processing.

To ensure a smooth PostgreSQL experience, try the user-friendly solution of Slik Protect, which provides automated and regular backups and restoration for unmatched data security and business continuity.